Ellen Doherty, chief creative officer at Fred Rogers Productions, talks to TV Kids about the overall state of the kids’ content industry and how it can step up to meet the evolving needs of kids and their families within the new normal in the midst of a pandemic.
The initial wave of COVID-19 crested months ago around the world, but the ongoing ripple effects can still be felt throughout the media industry—not to mention the successive waves of the coronavirus that are thought to be inevitable. Kids’ series and other such media content can play a unique role in times of crisis, offering support to both children and their caregivers.
“Parents and caregivers are increasingly turning to video and digital content producers to help them help their kids learn and to entertain them while staying at home,” says Doherty. “We hear from parents that they see Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as a resource to help their children process all the changes to their routines.” Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, inspired by the titular Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood puppet, has been front and center in Fred Rogers Productions’ coronavirus-centered content. “Families have long trusted and depended on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for parenting strategies, so when PBS approached us in April to create a timely special in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we acted quickly. The result: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Sing Along with Me?”
With music at its center, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Sing Along with Me? helps address some of the challenges and disappointments children may be experiencing during the global health crisis that sees families spending more time at home and less time with friends and loved ones than ever before. In the special, Daniel deals with his feelings about missing the people he loves, and learns about how to keep himself and others healthy and ways to enjoy time at home with his family.
“Producing a half-hour of animation typically takes about 40 weeks, and to create this special in just a few months for an August 17 broadcast is testament to the commitment and dedication of the Fred Rogers Productions and 9 Story Media teams,” says Doherty. “And we would never have gone into production without the generous support of both PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provided the funding.”
Fred Rogers Productions has also released music videos featuring Daniel Tiger, like “Germs, Germs Go Away,” which serves as a soundtrack for little ones as they wash their hands, and a special digital storybook about how much Daniel misses his grandfather. Four special short-form Odd Squad videos showcase healthy habits for kids, from mindfully coughing and sneezing to social distancing tips. Resources, activities and video content from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Odd Squad as well as Peg + Cat have rolled out regularly on social media and through Fred Rogers Productions’ public television station partners.
In addition to the specials, new seasons of the aforementioned series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Odd Squad are in the works. “There’s an increased need for completed content, as production pipelines have been impacted by COVID-19,” says Doherty, who adds that the company is also working on a new puppet series for PBS Kids called Donkey Hodie, which follows a cute and huggable donkey who is the granddaughter of the original Donkey Hodie character, another puppet from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “The learning is focused on persistence, problem-solving and resilience—they’re really important skills and traits for kids to develop, especially now.”